Nadal back in spotlight as Barty faces all-Australia clash at Open

Nadal back in spotlight as Barty faces all-Australia clash at Open

Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates his win against Serbia's Laslo Djere but said after his back was not feeling great.
Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates his win against Serbia's Laslo Djere but said after his back was not feeling great.

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal will test his sore back again Thursday as he chases a record 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, while top women's seed Ashleigh Barty, yet to drop a game, faces an all-Aussie clash in the second round.

The ailing Spanish second seed had to modify his service action during a straight-sets cruise past Serbia's Laslo Djere in the first round.

He will round off the night session on Rod Laver Arena against American qualifier Michael Mmoh, having never lost a match at the Australian Open to a player ranked as low as the world number 177.

"My back is not perfect. Every day that I'm able to go through, probably there are more chances to be better," said Nadal, who also pulled out of the ATP Cup last week.

Barty dropped only 10 points as she raced through in just 44 minutes against the outclassed Danka Kovinic on Tuesday.

Now the world number one faces fellow Aussie Daria Gavrilova, a former top 30 player who has slumped to 377th after a torrid 2019 when she lost 12 times in the first round in 14 tour events.

But the crowd favourite, known as "Dasha", showed some glimpses of her old form and punishing forehand when beating Spain's 64th-ranked Sara Sorribes Tormo in straight sets in the first round.

Defending champion Sofia Kenin will look to keep her emotions in check as she faces a tricky match on Margaret Court Arena against Estonia's 35-year-old Kaia Kanepi, a finalist last week in the warm-up Gippsland Trophy and a six-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist.

Kenin admitted to a few tears during a scratchy 7-5, 6-4 win against Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis on Tuesday.

"I was obviously quite annoyed the whole match," said Kenin, who made 27 unforced errors under the new pressure this year of defending a Slam for the first time.

"There were some tears. Eyes were a little bit wet during the match. I tried to cool off, put that aside. I have to handle my emotions."

Teenage sensation Coco Gauff is looking for her latest big name scalp in the prime-time evening slot on Rod Laver Arena.

The potential victim this time is Ukrainian fifth seed Elina Svitolina who will be all too aware that Gauff knocked out Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka on her way to the fourth round a year ago at the age of 15.

Also in the women's draw, sixth seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic faces a potentially tricky test first up on Rod Laver against feisty American world number 40 Danielle Collins, who reached the semi-finals at Melbourne Park two years ago.

Russia swept to an ATP Cup triumph last week and have designs on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the men's singles champion in the shape of world number four Daniil Medvedev and seventh seed Andrey Rublev who are both in magnificent form.

Medvedev, who won the Paris Masters and the ATP Tour finals in London to close out 2020, will look to extend his win streak to 16 matches against Spain's 99th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena.

Rublev, winner of more Tour-level titles than any other player last year, faces Brazilian world number 74 Thiagio Monteiro.

Should either Medvedev or Rublev go on to win the title, they will become the first Russian Grand Slam men's singles champion since Marat Safin won at Melbourne Park in 2005.

The ATP Cup beaten finalists are also back in action as Italy's ninth seed Matteo Berrettini plays Czech qualifier Tomas Machac while Fabio Fognini has an all-Azzurri clash against Salvatore Caruso.

Fifth seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, aged 22, is bidding to become the youngest winner since a 20-year-old Novak Djokovic in 2008.

The Greek takes on Australian wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis, who has never got past the second round in four previous appearances.

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